New School!

Everyone’s new at Crossroads School
By Jeff Bolichowski

Released in the St. Catharines Standard
September 7, 2011

My nephew, Rowan, and some of his friends
getting off the bus on their first day
of classes at the new school.
Suddenly, everyone was the new kid in a new school Tuesday morning.

It left 12-year-old Frank Boese, a Grade 7 student at the new Crossroads School in Virgil, caught between admiration and nervousness. He'd been a student at Virgil School until his student body combined with Colonel John Butler School's to populate the newly-built school on Niagara Stone Rd.

Nervous or not, though, he'd made a couple of new friends by noon. And he'd found plenty to like about his new digs.

"I think it's really great that we have lockers and we have classrooms with smart boards," he said. "They really help us learn."

The newly-built school was not entirely finished when it welcomed students for the first time Tuesday. It's the new home for kids who once attended the nearly 140-year-old Virgil School and the small Butler School, both of which closed in the summer.

Some kids know each other, principal Marian Reimer Friesen said. But with two student bodies together in a new building, everyone got the new-kid experience of finding their way around and learning who's who — even the teachers.

"That moment this morning, when the buses arrived and all my kids stepped off the same bus. My Butler kids, my Virgil kids, the new kids, that was an incredible feeling," she said.

While some are getting lost, she said, that happens on the first day.

The transition, she said, has been rougher on the adults than the kids. "They're so adaptable," she said.

"The new kids say, 'What a great year to be new.' Nobody knows where the washrooms are. Nobody knows where the staff room is. Nobody knows how to get to the main office, so we can all experience it together."

The kids stepped into a school quite different from their former academies. Crossroads, a two-storey school, gleamed Tuesday, its corridors coloured in subdued tans and greens and blues.

Students have lockers now, which Reimer Friesen said has sparked a great deal of excitement. And the building houses a learning commons featuring plush chairs for reading plus books and computers, a hybrid of library and computer lab and discussion space.

It's even got that new-school smell, Reimer Friesen said.

A few things aren't finished. The gymnasium remains a mess of tools, its bare floor still lacking hardwood. And a couple of interior walls near the entrance, intended to eventually house a display case, aren't done yet.

The school holds 410 students, 20 teachers, three early childhood educators and two education assistants.

Grade 1 teacher Vinciane DeBrouwer, who taught for 10 years at Virgil School, said she's fascinated with what else her classroom holds. She was quick to name her favourite aspect of the room: "Storage." Everything, she said, has a place.

She said she spent about a week setting up her classroom. Displayed along the walls and bulletin boards, cutouts of cartoon monkeys introduce kids to months and colours.

The students, she said, got comfortable quickly. For her, it was a bit tougher.

"It's scary," she said. "But it's nice because everyone's in it together."

Grade 7 student Britney Goertz marvelled at the scale of her new school. She said it's a huge change from Butler and its 130 students and eight staff members.

"This is so big," she said. "Such a big change for me.

"I got to kind of get to know a lot of people. You don't know very many of them because Butler was kind of a small school."

The size and amenities are a big change for Reimer Friesen, too. She said she didn't have access to such amenities as principal at Butler and Virgil

My friend's daughter busy in her new
class at the new local school.
"It's incredible to be able to answer the questions that parents have with, 'Yes, we can help you with that.' "

Also on Tuesday, regional council's public works committee voted to recommend lowering the speed limit on Niagara Stone Rd. in front of Crossroads at certain times when kids are around.

If council green-lights that, flashing signals will indicate a speed limit of 40 km/h in front of the school from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., 11:15 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

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